by Kevin Pulsifer
No. 6 Villanova will host Seton Hall on Friday, and then fly out for a game a few days later for their 11th Big East Conference game of the year.
Their opponent will be traveling to Creighton, ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll, for a tough matchup in Omaha before hosting the ’Cats.
That team is DePaul. And while I’d like to continue proclaiming this as a marquee game, it certainly lies in the hopes of Wildcat fans as a future blowout. The stats are on their side, as well.
DePaul, who entered the Big East Conference in 2005, has been a bottom-feeder for the likes of Georgetown, Villanova and Louisville nearly the entire time.
In their second season, they finished 20-14, their lone winning season. The Blue Demons have never made it to the NCAA Tournament as a member of the Big East.
This season started out no different for DePaul, as they opened up 4-4 including a win against 2013’s worst team, 0-29 Grambling State.
But they rattled off four wins in five games to head into Big East play at a respectable 8-5.
Things looked surprisingly good for the Blue Demons in early January as they traveled to Georgetown and Marquette and lost by only single-digits, and soon after won two straight games, including a thrilling double overtime victory against Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
They were in the middle of the pack, for the first time in forever.
Since then, however, they’ve been frozen. Five straight losses, four of them by double digits, have sent them back to last place in the conference. Most recently, their 12-point loss at home to Georgetown set them back even further.
The Blue Demons led throughout the entire first half, and yet they could only watch as the Hoyas put together 44 points in the second half.
The game did take place without their star senior forward Cleveland Melvin, but the season is turning in to a lost cause for DePaul. They are currently the only team in the Big East with a losing record, at 10-13.
Led by Melvin, a forward who shoots 47 percent from the arc, the Blue Demons do not struggle to score. At 72.1 points per game, they can stay in games as long as they play defense.
Fellow senior Brandon Young is a slashing guard that averages 14.4 points and four assists per game, and could cause Villanova problems.
But it is DePaul’s aforementioned defense that leads to trouble. They surrender over 74 points per game, much worse than all Big East teams. This could become a major issue when facing one of the top offenses in the NCAA.
Villanova scores at a rate most teams can’t keep pace with, and when the ’Cats manage to lock down on defense, they’re nearly unstoppable.
On Monday evening, the Wildcats ran Xavier out of the building on a snow day, 81-58. After a relatively ugly first half, Villanova turned on the afterburners and scored 53 points in the rout.
Senior guard James Bell led the team with 27 points, and junior guard Darrun Hilliard added 17. In the first matchup between these two teams, ’Nova scored 55 points in the second half in an 88-62 rout of DePaul at the Pavilion back on Jan. 18, just a few short weeks ago.
Sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu, who once told Bill Raftery that he “played a little point guard in high school,” had quite possibly his greatest game of his budding career, recording 14 points on six of six shooting, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
He also committed just one foul and never turned the ball over. Villanova turned the ball over just five times in the win.
Additionally, the Wildcats have some serious leadership that has helped them late.
In games, outside of a few missed free throws against Marquette, the team has performed well in clutch situations, whether it be sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono or Bell making the play.
The team is 7-0 in single-digit games, proving that they have the leadership necessary to handle big moments, as we saw against Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
It’s hard to see DePaul racing out to a major lead against Villanova, even if the game is being played in Chicago.
And if somehow the game stays close at the end, the Wildcats can definitely put their trust into whoever has the hot hand that day.
Arcidiacono’s assist to turnover ratio is nearly at three to one, with both sophomore guard Dylan Ennis and senior guard Tony Chennault’s being over two to one.
Sharing the basketball efficiently has led to a major increase in offensive production.
Barring a collapse, I see Villanova keeping a safe, double-digit lead throughout most of the second half and cruising to an 88-73 victory.